Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vesuvius, VA to Birchleaf, VA: Conflicting Emotions and Coming Home

Miles Per Day: Day 7=23.39; Day 8= REST; Day 9= 81.75; Day 10= 52.75; Day 11= 51:54; Day 12=52.69.

Total So Far: 540.23

Inspiration: This American Life (NPR); The Howard Stern Show; The Beatles; The Wire; Wilco; Eminem; Billy Holiday.

Spirits: Exasperated; tired; calculated; exhausted; comfortable.

Things Seen On the Road: A huge mountain waterfall; two majestic valleys on the Appalachians; half a dozen dogs ready to eat me.

Favorite Quotes: (1) written on the inside of a bathroom door somewhere on Route 11: “Kill all rednecks;” response right below: “fuck you nigger.” Charming; (2) owner of a diner in southeastern Virginia as I came in from the rain: “you look like a wet rat! Do you need a place to stay?”

This week has been a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. There have been times when the thought of getting on that bike has made me dizzy. More than once, I muttered a couple of “fucks” under my breath as yet another hill emerged from right around the bend. I have stunk. I have gone to bed without showering. I have been caught in massive downpours, thunderstorms, and threats of tornadoes. I have been chased by ravenous dogs hoping to tear me to shreds. I have found myself in the pitch black of the night trying to figure out where to sleep for the night.

And yet...I have never been more alive in my life! There have been moments when the clouds have parted and the sun has illuminated some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. There have been nights when the sounds of crickets right outside my tent has lulled me to sleep. More often than not, the kindness of strangers has been on display throughout. And the stars...let's just say that you had to be there.

The terrain is changing and so are the people I am meeting. During those early days back in Eastern Virginia, both sides of the road were filled with spacious farms with meticulously manicured lawns as far as the eye could see. For the most part, the people I encountered were clearly middle to upper-middle class folk. I am now seeing a lot more trailers, more abandoned farm equipment and a whole lot more “Bankruptcy,” “Auction Sale,” and “Abandoned” signs right off the road. It is clear that this international recession/depression is hitting these areas hard. Or maybe what I am seeing is long-standing economic dislocation. That is, indeed, a depressing thought.

And yet...I feel more at home here than back East. It's not just that people are friendlier. There is a lack of pretension that is absolutely contagious. Many people here live simplicity every day. Some because they have no choice. Others because that is all they know. What binds them all together is that, come what may, they will always strive to work hard, raise strong families, go to church and love their country. And they are not ashamed about any of it.

Is it wrong to wish you had been born in Southwest Virginia?


This Pitt Bull chased me across oncoming traffic on Route 11 just to try to eat me:

Huddling under a tarp in the middle of a thunderstorm at about 2,400 feet:

Just a little taste of what I've been seeing as I bike every day:

Dancing at a diner somewhere on Route 80. This bluegrass band was fantastic. I will spare you photos of me dancing some Texas two-step with some wonderful dames.


Colin and Becca with one of their kids. These guys opened up their home to me in Christianburg and were wonderful. Thanks guys.

With Kayla and Christy. They arranged for me to stay in a trailer behind a diner to ride out some pretty intense thunderstorms and a couple of unconfirmed tornadoes. I just feel bad because I repaid them by trying to dance to bluegrass music. Excuse the developing farmer tan.


Speaking of thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes:

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